We always treated him with great respect, even though we harbored varying degrees of affection. After all, we named him Mr. Turtle.
Mr. Turtle lived in a substantial glass bowl containing water, a jagged rock to climb, and a couple of plastic fish for companionship (don’t ask why). He was fed regularly with leafy vegetables, occasionally some pieces of shrimp (when it appeared on our menu), and on special occasions, when anyone swatted a fly, we added it to Mr. Turtles domicile. His glasshouse was cleaned weekly – granted by the cleaning lady, but he couldn’t possibly have minded who attended to his well-being. Mr. Turtle resided in our recreation room at the back of our house and was taken outside from time to time to bask in the sun, whenever my sons (aged six and eight) played with friends in our backyard. In other words, Mr. Turtle couldn’t complain about his life; he was looked after with due diligence.
Then it happened. During an extremely cold turn in the weather in upstate New York, on the night of some party at our home, Mr. Turtle had to be moved from his place in our rec room (which doubled as our barroom) to the screened porch at the very end of the house.
Some days after the party, Mr. Turtle came to mind and I went out to the porch to reclaim him. There he was sunken to the floor of his glass house, literally frozen to death.
My sons took the news very badly and blamed me for poor party planning and gross irresponsibility toward a family member. They spread the news far and wide through the neighborhood. It didn’t take long before my sons’ friends turned their venom on me and, in an act of mature vengeance, took to shunning as my punishment. I was determined to turn them around to what I believed to be their usual state of admiration for all my personal and professional achievements. So, I developed a plan of action.
I announced that there would be a proper funeral for Mr. Turtle (I had drained his bowl but left Mr. Turtle in his glass house replicating, I believed, lying in state). I encouraged my sons to invite any of their friends who cared to attend.
On the day set for Mr. Turtle’s funeral I provided attendees with little paper umbrellas, (obtained at a Chinese restaurant that served Shirley Temples), and spoons to dig Mr. Turtle’s grave, as well as small musical instruments (party horns, triangles, and small harmonicas). As I looked over the scene: my two sons sharing the carrying of Mr. Turtle in his glass house out to the rock garden followed by eight to ten children playing their unrehearsed musical instruments -all followed by his murderer holding paper umbrellas and spoons, I felt I had arrived at a well-earned level of atonement.
So, Mr. Turtle was interred with great pomp and ceremony, his grave marked by the gaily decorated umbrellas. Rest in peace Mr. Turtle.
Some days later I heard a great agitated knocking at my door – no bells or shouting. However, the tempo and volume of the sound led me to believe that, if I opened the door, trouble would enter. And so it did in the form of a next-door neighbor – the mother of one of my son’s friends, a truly religious woman. In her fury (which was apparent) she had left her house in a great rush. She wore no coat. The only thing that covered her slacks and sweater was an apron. Her face was red with rage.
“You fool”, she blurted out. “You involved my sons in something so senseless and tried to cover it up with a sham funeral. First, you kill a turtle all the children loved. Then you stage a mock ritual that flaunts our religious beliefs.”
“But…”, I managed to sputter, “I didn’t kill Mr. Turtle. He froze to death by accident…and….”
I couldn’t get another word out before she yelled. “Despite all your fancy-shmansy degrees, what an idiot! Did you ever think about thawing out the turtle?”
“Frozen turtles can be thawed out?” I asked stunned by the realization of how little I knew of turtle cryogenics.
“Idiot! Of course. they can! And the funeral sham? Don’t even answer. I never want to see you or your children near my family.” With those words she left.
I rushed out to the rock garden to the area of the Shirley Temple umbrellas and with a large spoon started digging and digging. When my sons returned from school, they found me at my task. When I told them what had happened, they joined me in the digging. To our wonderment, we never found Mr. Turtle’s body. It had disappeared from this earth – but how?
To this day, when I think about Mr. Turtle, I send my regrets on high with the words: “I didn’t know – I really didn’t know.” And a voice comes thundering back. “That’s your excuse?”